iFanboy REPOST: Weather Powers and Global Climate Change

Figured most people didn’t see this originally but I enjoyed writing it a lot so I wanted to share it again over on the Paleocave. If it seems a bit dumbed down that’s because it’s written for the comic fan who may or may not be a science fan. Enjoy it for what it is!

Here’s a link if you’d like to see what comments happened on iFanboy, apparently it got heated but I wasn’t online to follow up.

SCIENCE: Weather Powers and Global Climate Change

I’ve got climate on the brain. I’ve been studying it and reading up on a lot of the nitty gritty about just how it works. Right now we’re experiencing a period of anthropogenic (mad-made) induced global climate change. (If you’ve not a fan of climate change or just plain don’t understand keep reading but also feel free to e-mail me.) I think it’s fair to assume our favorite superheoric worlds also underwent the Industrial Revolution and outside of the Watchmen, where Dr. Manhattan actually changed the course of technological history, I’d argue that they’re all getting ready to deal with some global warming too. So I got to thinking: Could any of the people with the power to control weather fix the problem?

The first thing it’s really important to note is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is chaotic short term variability in atmospheric conditions in a specific place. The chaotic nature of this system is why 10-day forecasts are often wrong. The more you try to extend predictions of short term chaotic systems into the near future the more likely those chaotic fluctuations will make you wrong. Alternatively, climate is the long term trends for an area. You may think that if you can’t predict in the short term, what hope is there for the long term? Well when you start looking at a system that’s chaotic in the short term over a very long time scale the chaos actually gets factored out and you get a decent signal to noise ratio. You can sort of think of seasons as the in-between of weather and climate, they’re relatively predictable changes in weather over yearly timescales.

So within Marvel, who can we call on to help us with climate change? The obvious answer is the X-woman Storm. Her whole shtick is to control the environment. My problem is one of scale. The reason earth is undergoing climate change is carbon dioxide. There are other factors, to be certain, but if you had to pick one this is the one you’d pick for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here, e-mail offer still stands though. This is where Storm falls a bit short because she, as far as I know, can’t really control things at a molecular level to alter CO2 into another gas. But she’s not out of the picture yet because one thing she could do is hook us up with the right clouds. Turns out clouds high in the atmosphere lead to global cooling, whereas low clouds lead to global warming. Clouds are really tricky for climate modelers because they honestly aren’t sure which type is having a greater effect, but we do know what each affect is. To that end, Storm could make sure low clouds are minimal and high clouds are maximal, and she could maybe even work with scientists to test the exact effects of each.

Furthermore, as climate change progresses weather will get more extreme; droughts, floods, storms, you name it. Storm could act as a buffer when things start to get crazy, alleviated droughts, trying to even out rainfall to prevent floods and just generally doing her best to minimize damage and death to the puny humans caught in an increasingly hostile world. It’d probably become her full-time job, but she’d be doing a whole lot of good without having to hurt anyone to do it (which seems to be a burgeoning secondary theme to my columns). I consider her situation roughly analogous to what Weather Wizard would be capable of in the DCU but I have a hard time believing he’d be so willing to pitch in and help out for the good of humanity; you’d have to cut him a check at the very least.

Another X-Man, Iceman, may be able to do more good than the Weather Witch. Why is a bit complex (isn’t it always?). A lot of what complicates climatic systems is feedback. Feedback is when a change occurs and that change either strengthens or weakens the thing that caused the change in the first place. If your home has a swear jar and you swear you have to put money in the jar, if you a condition where the act of dropping coins onto other coins makes you swear then you have feedback, if you’re required to put more money in each time you swear that’s a positive feedback loop because the forcing (the swear word) affects the response (money in the jar) which in turn reinforces the forcing. Make sense? Good. Usually, climate is balanced between positive and negative feedbacks such that it is relatively stable. One of the most important feedbacks for earth’s climate is the ice albedo feedback. Albedo is a measure of how reflective something is. Ice is very reflective, it’s why Captain Cold wears those awesome glasses, so if the earth is cold enough to have a lot of ice on it that ice actually reflects a lot of the sunlight hitting earth right back into space, preventing warming. Cold earth –> more ice –> less sun warming –> colder earth –> even more ice. The astute among you have probably heard of these pesky things called “Ice Ages” where this feedback loop gets a wee bit out of control and causes some serious climate change in the opposite direction that we’re facing now. Well good news! An ice age would be impossible today because there is simply too much CO2 in the atmosphere to even let it get cold enough for a snowball earth scenario. To that end I say we send Iceman to North Pole in the summer and the South Pole in the summer, they have opposing seasons [Pictured: Iceman doing it wrong, if he sticks to the plan he’ll never see the moon again]. If he’s there in the summer he can prevent as much ice from possible as melting and grow new ice if he can. Either we’ll get our emissions together or he’ll keep working at it until our obliquity changes to cut him some slack. Again, there are a few ice powered people in the DCU but most of them are villains, Ice being the exception but I never saw her as being as powerful as Iceman so I say you coerce the villains and/or hope Ice is up to the challenge.

Wow, I really didn’t expect to get that much out of only two characters with weather/environmental powers. If people are digging this I can always come back for part 2, but for now I invite your critiques of my solutions, science (even fantastical comic science) thrives on peer review so let’s hash it out!


Ryan Haupt is at the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology this week so he’s even more science-y than usual. He missed NYCC because of it, which is very sad, but he does get to hang out with his Science… sort of co-host, Patrick, which is some consolation.

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4 Responses to iFanboy REPOST: Weather Powers and Global Climate Change

  1. DanielNo Gravatar 14 January, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I think a crucial consideration is whether or not the inputs of these superheroes come from within or without the total system. In other words, when Storm causes cloud cover or rainfall at a given location is she simply manipulating water molecules already present at that location, is she translocating water moisture from elsewhere on the planet (in which case total climatic effects will likely cancel out), or is she actually introducing new moisture from outside the system? (I’m assuming that in a superhero universe matter/energy can be neither created nor destroyed.) Similar questions apply for Iceman, although since he’s manipulating pure heat energy it may be a little less tricky.

    Love the show. If you’re ever down in central Texas I’d highly recommend Fireman’s 4 Blonde Ale (or anything else by the Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco). Great beer for after you’ve finished mowing the lawn (or even before).

    • RyanNo Gravatar 14 January, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      I’ve enjoyed a Fireman’s 4 Blonde Ale in the heat of Austin before. Good beer for a hot day!

      Thanks for the comments, I was half operating under the assumption that the scale of their powers would be minimal against the system as a whole, like when we get a gravity boost for a satellite going past Jupiter. Technically, Jupiter slows down due to a loss of energy, but nobody worries about it. Flimsy but that’s what I went with. Seem reasonable?

  2. benNo Gravatar 14 January, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    wow daniel! you beat me to it. coool.

    • benNo Gravatar 14 January, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

      oh man, that ifanboy article turned political pretty fast.

      I think a good comic book would be one where storm was old, and then died. and then suddenly the WEATHER WENT OUT OF CONTROL BECAUSE SHE WAS HOLDING BACK CLIMATE CHANGE!!!

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